One to watch in Harvard Square
Outdoor video installation is an intriguing if chilly affair
CAMBRIDGE -- It's a sad paradox that public art is often ignored by the public. So it is with Lumen Eclipse's video art installation, nestled in the eaves of the information kiosk in Harvard Square. It's hard enough to get passersby to notice a statue. Just try asking them to watch a five-minute video in the December chill.
Lumen Eclipse is an ambitious and laudable enterprise. Every month, curator Ryan Gibson pulls together a dozen short videos to play on two plasma screens mounted on the kiosk. Gibson and his business partner, Rory Keohane (formerly of River Gods), wanted to show the kind of digitally based video art that's being produced like popcorn these days, since technology has turned filmmaking into a low-budget fiesta.
Video art is hot, and it's becoming a regular staple at art venues (see sidebar on two local installations on Page D4). Those indoor exhibits are easier to just stop by and watch. Public video in Harvard Square is a great idea. Unfortunately, right now it's a miserable experience.
All the videos have sound, but you can't hear it. A state-of-the-art audio system gauges the decibel level in the square and raises or lowers the video's volume. But when I was there, the relentless ringing of a Salvation Army bell combined with the sounds of traffic, the T rumbling below, and pedestrians all around still drowned out the sound.
Lumen Eclipse pays for the prime real estate on the kiosk by selling ads to local businesses. These are all tasteful, but commercials are commercials, grating and repetitive, and the ratio of ad time to art time -- 50/50 -- is ridiculous. On the upside, when videos are playing on one screen, commercials are playing on the other, so if you want to watch just videos, you can dash from one side of the kiosk to the other and effectively avoid the ads. In the wintertime, that may be one way to keep warm.
The December roster ranges from haunting and clever artistry to hammy one-trick ponies, from music videos to conceptual art to cinematic narratives. Artists include locals, international luminaries such as Yoko Ono, and everyone in between. Each month, Lumen Eclipse commissions one video to be made about Cambridge. The group Sosolimited made the snappy ''02139 downsampled," featuring a map of the city with a pulsing yellow square moving from block to block. The square corresponds with street scenes shot from a moving car, as the camera zooms into and out of the map. It's almost a living, breathing ''You are here" guide.
Michael Takeo Magruder's ''re_collection" cleverly utilizes the hallmarks of his medium to disorient: He pixelates the image, a grassy landscape, into a bright, clunky grid. Suddenly, certain pixels turn blue, and in a moment we make out a child hurtling toward and then past us.
''America Central," by Harvard University's Alfred Guzzetti, raises questions about globalization by leveling the camera at an intersection in small-town Central America, while a news ticker cadged from a 24-hour cable news station runs below. Yammering US headlines such as ''Terror Alert Elevated" and ''Head from damaged Saddam Hussein statue on view at Kentucky State Fair" are smacked on the quiet local scene.
Gaelle Denis's ''City Paradise" seamlessly melds live-action with animation. Telling the poignant story of a Japanese woman learning English in London, it mixes lush dream sequences with sweetly awkward social encounters. Peter Horvath's ''Tenderly Yours" riffs on classic French cinema as it eloquently follows the trajectory of a doomed romance.
Two super-short videos by Myron Campbell, ''Tourist" and ''Magpie and Stump," take Monty Python-style animation to a new level of technological sophistication; like Python's, they're also gawky and endearing. Two other animated pieces, Tore Terrasi's ''Poem # __" and Andrezza Valentin's ''We Hear Them Cutting" take off from text. They come across as arch and ponderous, like works in a bad poetry reading.
Bradley Grosh's ''Elevator 211" is a swift, dark, surreal, and ultimately comic montage of a quickie romantic encounter in an elevator. Sia's ''Breathe Me" plays one conceit to death: Scores of Polaroid snapshots take us through a narrative like a flipbook, occasionally dropping us into one photo's reality, only to find another darned pile of snapshots within.
On the music video front, Yoko Ono and Mike Mills's ''Walking on Thin Ice" uses a similar gimmick -- a girl reading a picture book finds herself inside its images -- but with much more artistry and wit. Antony and the Johnsons' ''You Are My Sister" is a lovely sentimental ballad -- how often do songwriters pay tribute to their sisters? -- but the video is distasteful fluff, showing one woman after another, all made up like models, putting a weird, erotic twist on a nonsexual subject.
Keohane and Gibson are still getting the kinks out of Lumen Eclipse. Many of the videos merit attention. For all the installation's problems, it's worth taking a look.